WordPress for Hotel Websites

Why WordPress is Insufficient for Hotels

Wordpress for hotel websitesWordPress is a wonderful CMS for blogs, but it was not designed for hotels. The best thing hotel owners can do for their web presence is choose a service designed specifically to encourage more direct reservations for hotels. While WordPress is a versatile blogging platform, it is costly to design a quality website with it, the learning curve is high and it degrades over time.

WordPress comes in two forms—the subscription-based WordPress.com that acts like many other web-based blogging platforms like Blogger, and the free WordPress.org that is more flexible but harder to use. Since we’re talking about WordPress in its application towards creating a fully-functional hotel website, I’ll focus on WordPress.org for this article since it is the more robust option.

WordPress for Hotels

The Hidden Costs.

Even though WordPress is a free, open-source software, there are plenty of costs involved in getting your WordPress-powered hotel website online. You have to host it, buy a domain, buy themes, buy plugins and invest a substantial amount of time into keeping it healthy. Here is my cost-breakdown estimate:

  • Dedicated Hosting: $200 a month (or $35 a month if you opt for virtual dedicated hosting, which makes your website slower).
  • Domain name: $12 a year
  • Premium WordPress Theme: $90 (prices vary wildly depending on quality but usually if you want a theme you can use commercially, you have to pay around $100)
  • Premium WordPress Plugins: $300 (many booking engines also take a percentage of every reservation you get)
  • TOTAL: $602 up-front and out-of-pocket, plus $200+ a month. This doesn’t count the thousands of dollars you’ll lose every year to a booking engine that takes a percentage of every reservation, or the money you spend each year buying new themes, purchasing more bandwidth and disk space and other site maintenance needs.

What can’t be listed here is the cost of your time. As much as I personally love WordPress, it is huge time sink. Outside of work, I run four different WordPress websites—a web community, a blog, an eCommerce site and a professional portfolio. Trying to keep all of them healthy and up-to-date takes up the majority of my free time outside of work.

Hotel Websites on WordPress

Why they are huge time-sinks.

There are three major time sinks those who host their own WordPress powered hotel websites must invest in: updating the CMS, updating and repairing plugins, and updating themes.

The WordPress CMS. WordPress is constantly being updated and improved. On one hand this is a great thing, because it means that, like buuteeq, WordPress is constantly trying to be on the cutting edge of new technology. However, unlike buuteeq, WordPress’ constant updates often break websites due to incompatibility with outdated plugins and themes. Additionally, many web designers will hand-edit core WordPress files in order to accommodate themes and plugins. When you update WordPress, you lose all of these customizations, and you have to go back into your code editor and replace them.

Plugins. One of the things that makes WordPress so versatile is that it supports hundreds of thousands of user-made plugins. Think of plugins as ‘apps’ for WordPress. You can install free or paid plugins that perform functions that do not come native with WordPress—a pretty image slideshow, for example, or a hotel booking engine. The problem is that, since other people not affiliated with WordPress create these plugins, these authors very often lose interest in their projects and abandon them. This leaves the vast majority of plugins incomplete and riddled with bugs. Additionally, as WordPress updates itself over time, it often becomes incompatible with older plugins. In practice, this means that if you update WordPress but it is incompatible with one of your older plugins, your hotel website breaks.

The only way to fix a website that breaks is to roll it back to a previous version, which you can only do if you have been meticulous about keeping backups—a practice that often requires its own plugin that could also break with any update.

To compare, buuteeq takes snap-shots of your hotel website every time you publish it, making it easy and painless to backup and restore older versions of your content. Additionally, since buuteeq makes all development in-house, buuteeq’s BackOffice never breaks, and our technology advances flawlessly over time.

Themes. Like plugins, WordPress supports thousands of user-made themes, which define the layout and look of WordPress hotel websites. You can find many free themes (which are often poor quality), but most themes cost money and can be expensive.

One of the major drawbacks of WordPress is that WordPress themes and WordPress plugins often conflict with each other. Since the typical WordPress user usually has dozens of plugins installed, made by dozens of different people, using a theme also made by someone else, these plugins and themes often come into conflict with each other, breaking the website. Users have to be very careful before installing a new plugin to make sure that it wont break their website. If their theme doesn’t support the plugin (as is often the case, because theme creators can’t write-in accommodations for the hundreds of thousands of plugins in the world) hoteliers will often have to hand-edit the code of their themes in order to get the plugin to work, which is a laborious effort for non-web designers.

Additionally, themes are often abandoned by their creators, which, like plugins, can make them incompatible with later versions of WordPress. This means that, unless all of your themes and plugins are supported by their creators forever, your hotel website will eventually become outdated and, worse yet, it might break altogether.

WordPress for Hotels on Mobile Devices

WordPress was not built to be mobile optimized out-of-the-box. Over time, independent developers have created plugins that attempt to produce a mobile optimized version for WordPress. I have personally tested all of the major plugins that claim to do this, and while some have a modicum of success, every single one has errors that often poorly display your hotel content. For example, many of the plugins you install to customize your website will not work on mobile devices, and yet the mobile plugin won’t know to turn them off. This can break the mobile theme. These mobile plugins will attempt to compensate for this by shutting down portions of your site, which produces a mobile website with few images, garbled text, broken links, broken frames and navigation and, at best, a boring experience.

WordPress and Hotel Web Design

The Weight & Architecture of WordPress.

WordPress is a blogging platform, designed for bloggers. For the hotelier, this means that WordPress comes with dozens of built-in functions that hoteliers don’t need and simply clutter up the interface and add ‘weight’ to the website. One problem WordPress has had to fight ever since it was created is its weight. It is naturally a slow-loading CMS. The more plugins and themes you install, the heavier it gets. There are solutions out there that you can use to lighten it, including caching plugins, but often these are very hard for the casual blogger to understand and perfectly implement.

This also means that your hotel website’s navigation and information architecture are designed for bloggers, not guests looking for a hotel room. As we discussed in our video on IA, buuteeq has invested millions in creating web design perfectly suited for the hospitality industry. We know how guests browse and what information they are looking for to make their purchase decision, and we place that info right where they want to see it. WordPress doesn’t do that. It is trying to be a one-shoe-fits-all product, which is capable, but not as powerful as a product designed specifically for hotels.

Hotel SEO for WordPress

Or ‘How to Make SEO As Complicated As Possible’.

There are a few great plugins for WordPress you can find for improving SEO. However, in order to take advantage of them, one must either be trained by a WordPress guru, or do weeks of research in order to get it just right. WordPress out-of-the-box is not optimized well. Their URL structure is filled with numbers, page references and other garbage that looks horrible on search engines and encourages poor rankings. In order to fix this, one must change the permalinks structure, decide whether or not to show categories and tags in the URL, and so on.

While experts can make WordPress do almost anything they want in terms of SEO, learning all of the steps necessary and then developing the skills to do them are steep hills to climb for the hotelier.

buuteeq started from the ground up when we designed our product, and we designed it with hotel SEO in mind. Hoteliers don’t have to worry about tweaks they they need to do here and there, or whether or not their .htaccess file is written correctly and so on. buuteeq takes care of it all.

WordPress vs. buuteeq for Hotels

The long and short of it.

WordPress is impressive, and it is one of the best blogging solutions out there. But when it comes to hotels, buuteeq is the best choice for creating a modern, constantly evolving, stable website that is mobile optimized, built on the shoulders of outstanding SEO and integrated with Facebook. It was crafted specifically for gaining more direct, online reservations for hotels and putting more heads in your beds.

About Brandon Dennis

Brandon M. Dennis is the Technical Marketing Manager at buuteeq, the digital marketing system for hotels. He manages buuteeq’s SEO, paid media channels, contributes content, and writes for the company blog. You can connect with him on Twitter @oxhorn.

12 Comments

  • Dear Brandon, I read your article very carefully.
    I follow your blog sometime, but reading this article, the first thing that came to my mind was: are you trying to convince me to throw away word press and then buy Buuteeq? It seems to me obvious that the objective of this article is to direct visitors who read it to buy a product that is not word press, but the one that the author is representing.
    I am a consultant for about 15 hotels in Italy and all the websites were created with Word Press.
    The company that developed the site has been able to accomplish the custom settings thanks to their impeccable support and account. It is true that the cost of hosting could be high but in the package that was offered to me were included services for which I am very happy to pay thanks to the results obtained to date. But the most important value is that Word Press is an open source platform, which means that if tomorrow I decide to change providers I will not have to start from zero again and make extra money investments and waste time to set up from begin. Logically this is my point of view but it is based primarily on the value of the services used on Word Press and the results achieved in terms of revenue and direct bookings to date.

    • Thanks for your feedback Enzo. The only push-back I get about this article comes from professionals who don’t make their own software, but instead use WordPress to make websites for clients. This push-back is understandable because the premise of my article does not support their best interests. However, that does not make my conclusions inaccurate.

      As I make clear in this piece, WordPress is a very powerful platform for blogging. It can even be used for hotel websites. The downsides for using WordPress to power hotel websites, however, are many, including the fact that the hotelier will need to understand server maintenance, caching, php accelerators, and a bunch of other stuff that, if ignored, could cripple the success of the website.

      In short, the power of WordPress is its flexibility, but that flexibility comes at the cost of simplicity. With a SaaS solution, the SaaS provider takes care of website maintenance, server upgrades, software upgrades, website performance, and so on. With an open source solution like WordPress, the hotelier must take care of all these things themselves, or hire an in-house webmaster to handle them. (Web hosts like Bluehost and Godaddy do not handle maintenance and upgrades).

      Most website designers who use WordPress will sell a static website to a client. They will build the website, publish the website, and then move on. Three years later, WordPress will have dozens of new updates that won’t have been installed. The plugins used for the site will be outdated and potentially insecure. Server software will have updated, but most developers don’t go back and update all their clients’ websites, and make the necessary changes to them to support plugins that have been abandoned by their developers, or themes that have become broken due to new technology innovations, like responsive design, for example. Instead, the client pays once, and has an outdated, broken website only a few years later.

      With SaaS, all technology is updated as technology advances, ensuring the hotel website is always at the forefront of technology. That’s the difference between WordPress and SaaS.

  • I have to admit, I LOVE wordpress since it’s open source and you can do a lot if you’re willing to learn the system. Brandon, you do a good job of mapping out the costs of using such a solution…especially the hidden ones.

    Most of the time we don’t look at the bigger picture.

    I wanted to compare your digital presence (website included) as having an employee. Your web presence should be your hardest working employee, it’s job description is simple, capture the most bookings possible from all around the world. If it’s not doing that effectively, you should fire it!

    I believe buuteeq is a better employee to hire.

    Full disclosure I am biased since I work with buuteeq. The reason I chose to work with buuteeq is because I’ve seen the analytics that prove buuteeq is a conversion engine and actually improves the hotel’s bookings!

    If you want a website that you can control- then there are lots of options, ie: wordpress. If you want your website to do work for you- than you need something like buuteeq.

  • I’ve worked in the hotel industry for ten years, my husband for seventeen. I also have experience with building websites, and my own business. Hosting is NOT $200 a month unless you’re an idiot. And if you’re a bright person, and you own a hotel of less than fifty rooms, you don’t choose a theme that will do the booking for you, you choose a GDS, then feed the GDS through your website. If you’re really small, you can buy some really good themes that will do all the booking for you, but not be part of a GDS, which can also be beneficial since then you don’t need to worry about the GDS at all (because the GDS costs money monthly).

    It doesn’t matter who you are, in order to use the third party websites (like Expedia), you WILL have to give them money for every reservation.

    If you know anything about hotels, actually WordPress is a great option until you really start making money and then it would probably be better to have something custom built from the ground up. 

    • Dedicated servers are expensive. Virtual dedicated servers are very cheap, but they provide poor quality for hotel websites that get a lot of traffic (though they work just fine for low-traffic websites). For dedicated web hosting, many services can cost upwards of $200 a month or more.

      GDS is a handy way to get more bookings. However, GDS is not the whole pie, and in fact is a much smaller slice of the pie for most properties (each hotel runs their business differently, but most do not rely on GDSs to drive the bulk of their business).

      Hotel owners and marketers should use hotel websites to catch a segment of the market that is not already caught by OTAs and other agencies. The nice thing about having your own hotel website is that you control branding, message and all other content, and can use your own online booking engine of choice. Savvy hotel marketers will use commission-free, online booking engines.

      WordPress is a handy tool to quickly create a decent website. This blog is built with WordPress, and it works well for us. However, WordPress was not designed for hotels, and out-of-the-box, WordPress does not perform well for hotels, for it does not cater to all the specific needs a hotel has. With much tweaking and tech know-how, one can use WordPress to do many things–one can also, with much effort, use WordPress to create a decent hotel website. For the rest of us, the better option is to choose a SaaS ‘in the cloud’ online marketing solution specifically built for hotels.

      • There are a few problems I have with your response and your article in general. In earlier parts of the article you seem to be talking about small hotels by the simple fact that you’re talking about purchasing a $100 theme, rather than actually creating your own unique presence. At other times, you’re talking about dedicated hosting for high traffic, and supposedly large properties.

        To whom is this article really directed? Small hotels or big hotels?

        If I’m a small hotel then your dedicated hosting bit is nonsense, cause I may never get, nor do I need that much traffic to make money. And while we’re at it, how much is, “a lot of traffic”?

        If I’m a big hotel, then the seeming complications of using WordPress is moot, because I’ll have a person dedicated to working with that kind of technology.

        I agree that for the average small hotel owner, the willingness to learn WordPress, which is as easy as learning MSWord, is probably not there and they might want to choose something simpler and less hands on. But you really needed to break your article out into two audiences and not mix your message. Don’t talk about buying cheap themes on one hand and then talk about dedicated servers on the other; those are two separate markets.

        • The article was written to hotels of all shapes and sizes, because it’s simply more affordable to find a different solution than wordpress, regardless of how large your hotel is.

          If you have a small hotel, then you bleed money in time spent wasted learning wordpress, customizing wordpress, and maintaining wordpress.

          If you have a large hotel and a large marketing budget, you bleed money by hiring someone to monitor, upgrade, repair, and alter your wordpress site, with a salary and perks like health care.

          Alternatively, hoteliers can find other solutions not dependent upon wordpress and gain all the same benefits of wordpress–and more–for one monthly fee (which is cheaper than a person;s salary.)

          • Mr. Dennis, I have already conceded that a small hotel owner who pretty much takes on the marketing challenges of his or her property, may not appreciate having to take the time to learn how to use WordPress. But you seem to want to insist that a large hotel with a large marketing budget would not already have a technical person on their team or a website manager (and you and I know that we’re truly overplaying how much technical knowledge one needs to operate WordPress).

            I think you’re not being the most forthcoming in this regard when it comes to the larger properties. Surely there are other advantages to your product outside of the much overplayed technical learning curve needed to master WordPress.

            My point even applies to many of the smaller hotels who already have webmasters on monthly retainer. They determined quite some time ago, that they disliked having to deal with updating their websites probably as much as they would dislike dealing with using a content management system like WordPress.

            One can be still be an advocate for a product even after laying the cards on the table. Are you really saying that WordPress would be difficult to implement for hotels that already have webmasters, whether in-house or on retainer?

            Please clarify for your audience.

          • Again, it comes down to cost. If a large hotel already has a technical person on staff, then presumably that person already has something technical to do without having to further complicate their job by throwing WordPress into the mix.

            WordPress takes a substantial amount of time to set up, and then additional time to maintain throughout the life of the website.

            It’s true–as you say, there is little technical knowledge needed to operate WordPress. The same is not true for installing WordPress, customizing themes, and getting plugins to work seamlessly.

            For example, hoteliers must have an online booking engine integrated with their website, so they can take direct reservations. Now, this is easy to do with a simple contact form. However, this becomes much more complicated to do with a plugin if the hotelier wants a booking engine that can communicate with their CRS, so they can support credit card transactions, an updated availability calendar, and inventory management between their direct channel and OTAs and GDSs.

            Now, let’s say that you do find a plugin that supports this functionality. It is likely very expensive. Regardless of the cost, the hotelier must then figure out a way to integrate the booking engine with their theme. Maybe the booking engine was designed only for use on widgets. But what if their theme doesn’t support widgets? Or what if they want to embed it directly onto a page using shortcode–but the engine doesn’t support shortcode? You can see how quickly some of the most basic functions a hotel website can become complicated to achieve with WordPress.

            Your underestimation of WordPresses’ difficulty is only suitable in a world where hoteliers approach WordPress like a ‘WYSIWYG’ text editor, useful for publishing text with the occasional fancy image. In this world, hoteliers set up their WordPress website with the push of a button. They choose some free WordPress theme (riddled with malware and hidden backlinks), click activate, and presto-chango! They have a WordPress website. They write a few articles and then forget about their website, except for a few years later when they update their homepage to boast about their new paint job.

            This narrow view of hotel web marketing is completely unrealistic, and somewhat patronizing–as if hotel websites don’t really need all the love and attention as a ‘normal’ website.

            I have an alternate view. I believe that hotel websites require a level of sophistication that most bloggers will never need. Hotel websites need to be able to communicate the value proposition of the property in a fraction of a second to entice guests and prevent bounces. This requires a custom information architecture designed to place important hotel information, such as rooms, photos, and locations, where guests already expect to find them. buuteeq achieved this by designing our product after performing extensive eye-tracking studies to understand guest browsing behavior. The CTAs, photos, and availability calendars on our clients’ sites are not there because we think they look good. They’re there because our studies have shown us where guests expect to see them. They’re there because we’ve proven that they get more clicks and drive more conversions. I challenge you to find a WordPress theme that can boast the same.

            With SaaS, we can update the technology behind our product as technology advances, and deliver these innovations to our clients. With WordPress, hoteliers need to update their themes and plugins (if the author has released updates for them), or change their web design strategy.

            True, everything I just described can be done by an in-house WordPress expert. I do it for my company (this blog is built on WordPress). However, this WordPress expert will cost the large hotel far more money, in both salary and benefits, in both the short term and the long run, than simply subscribing to a SaaS solution that takes care of everything.

            The idea that hoteliers can achieve a workable online marketing solution by simply slapping up a WordPress theme is at best a tragic myth, and at worst a devious deceit.

          • Alright Mr. Dennis, you win.

            I am having a website built right now with WordPress and there is a lot of work and money (USD 10,000) that went into the proprietary design. The web design company has also done the technical stuff.

            I will be updating the website myself and adding content. I view the above as a one time cost, other than web-hosting of course. If I were to take the above cost off the table for a moment, tell me how much easier it would be using your solution going forward. We’re pretending here that my website is up and running with you guys. What’s involved after that?

            Thanks again for the detailed response.

          • Sans costs, our platform is similar to WordPress from a usability perspective in that you log-in to a dashboard, add a post (we call them articles) and start writing. I believe it is easier to use than WordPress because users don’t need to do any image or table alignment or formatting in the editor–our system has pre-wired options built in that users can select.

            Attached below is a screenshot of our article creation dashboard. You can see that, to add content, simply select the kind of content you want to add–a form or table, text, images, video, etc. Instead of worrying about formatting, just produce the content and click save–our system will ensure that the content is formatted to fit seamlessly within whichever of our themes the hotelier chooses.

            I’ve also included a screenshot of some content one of our clients created using our system. You can browse their website here: http://www.canyonvilla.com/activities/a-sample-5-day-itinerary.htm

            Additionally, our solution is more affordable than a one-off custom WordPress solution. Our cheapest plan is $100 a month (our most expensive is $1,000 a month). Each plan has it’s own list of features. Most customers choose our middle plan at $300 a month (see our full pricing here: http://www.buuteeq.com/hotel-web-design-pricing )

            Clients who choose our middle plan pay only $3,600 per year. On average, website owners rebuild their websites from scratch every 2-3 years in order to adapt to new technology (most recently, it was adapting to the mobile revolution). So let’s say you have to purchase a new website anyway in 3 years at another $10,000. You’re still saving $1,000.

            Thanks for your comments Jason. It’s a topic I love to chat about!

Leave a Reply